Mike%20portrait%20medium– An interview with Mike Sharples

WEI Xuefeng & YANG Xianmin

This interview has been published in Open Education Rearch,20(1):4-8.

To cite this article:

WEI Xuefeng & YANG Xianmin2014.Global Research and Outlook of Mobile Learning [J].Open Education Rearch,20(1):4-8.

Mike Sharples is Professor of Educational Technology in the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK. He also has a post as Academic Lead for the FutureLearn company. His research involves human-centred design of new technologies and environments for learning. He inaugurated the mLearn conference series and was Founding President of the International Association for Mobile Learning. He is Associate Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies. His projects include the Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory which is an international virtual laboratory for practical science teaching, the JUXTALEARN project on science learning through creative media, and the nQuire project to develop online inquiry science learning for young people. He is lead author of the Innovating Pedagogy series of reports and author of over 300 papers in the areas of educational technology, science education, human-centred design of personal technologies, artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

Interviewer: Can you please introduce the key research achievements in m-learning?

Prof.: Ok. Well, I think the first major achievement is to demonstrate that mobile devices can effectively and successfully enable effective learning both inside and outside the classroom –that people can use mobile devices to access information and also to learn socially with other people. That’s a first achievement of m-learning. The second main achievement has been to reconceive learning–not just as a static activity that happens in one location, but an activity that occurs across multiple locations and it’s contextualized. So the way we learn in the classroom can be very different to the way in which we learn in the field, or to the way in which we learn at home. And lastly, there’s the notion of seamless learning. How we can connect learning with the aid of technology across different locations? How we can continue learning at home, outdoors, in the school? And the opportunities for new kinds of learning that seamless learning offers. For example, starting a scientific inquiry in the classroom and then continuing it outside and then sharing it back in the classroom – so the idea of learning has been seamless and continuous across locations. And mobile learning research has started to understand how that seamless learning is possible, what types of learning take place and how these can be enabled with new technologies.

InterviewerCan you please explain the essence of mobile learning and ubiquitous learning in your opinion?

Prof.: OK. So there has been a new book on mobile learning. This one here, I don’t know if you have seen it, it’s called the Handbook of Mobile Learning, produced by Routledge. They have a definition which was based on the definition we gave earlier. And their definition is “learning across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, using personal electronic devices”. And I think that’s a good definition, because firstly the essence of mobile learning is on the learning process rather than on the technology, with the devices enabling learning within and across contexts. So context is very important for understanding mobile learning. And that is both interactions between the people through technology and interactions with the technology itself, using personal devices as enablers, as tools. So I think those are the three main components: contexts, social and content interaction, using personal electronic devices.

InterviewerWhat is the difference among Mobile learning, E-learning and traditional learning?

Prof.: I think the key difference is that in mobile learning, the emphasis is on the mobility of the learner, aided by personal technologies – so rather than seeing learning as something that is fixed in the location, seeing it as a mobile continual activity. And that has two implications: one is that we need to understand how learning moves across time and across space, and across different technologies, so looking at the movement of learning. And secondly, trying to understand how learning can take place and can be supported outside formal settings, outside the classroom, outside formal education. And how this learning outside formal education can connect with learning in formal, traditional settings. E-learning has been much more about learning in traditional institutional settings. Mobile learning is understanding how learning outside traditional settings can be enabled and can be connected. So E-learning has been about how can you put technology into classrooms or into universities. Traditional learning has been looking at learning in a fixed setting or in a fixed institution like a university or school. Mobile learning is about how learning can flow across different settings, different devices, and different interactions.

InterviewerCan you please introduce the future important research directions in m-learning?

Prof.: I think the main research interests now are in seamless learning. So how you can connect together separate learning experiences into one continuous flow of learning across different technologies, contexts, social interactions. And secondly, how you can enable collaborative mobile learning, so not just individual receiving of information but how you can support social mobile learning, how you can enable large groups of people to learn together successfully. We know how to enable people to do social interaction online through social networks, but we still need to know about how to do learning with many many people. The third area I think is around ubiquitous learning–how you can enhance the environment to enable people to learn about the environment, about their surroundings.

InterviewerWhat is the impact of the Internet of Things phenomenon on mobile learning?

Prof.: I think that is a very interesting question. Once the environment becomes augmented with the technology, there are new possibilities. For example, if you can identify things in the environment, then you could use them for gaining information–for example, for language learning, if you can interrogate, if you could ask questions of objects in the environment; if you could ask to give a definition of an object you can see in foreign language, for example. So if you’re a Chinese visitor to England, and for every object in your environment you can ask what it is in English words, then that’s quite a powerful way of learning. But also you cannot just access information from environment. You can leave information for other people, so the Internet of Things becomes social. You can leave messages foe other people in locations. If you’re a language learner, you can leave definitions for others; you can leave information for others; you can help other people who are new to a city to understand the city by leaving information in locations. So, you can see the environment as being a collaborator, as a partner in learning, just as different people are partners in learning, the environment can also be a partner in learning. You can hold a conversation with elements in the environment; you can ask questions of objects; you can leave messages that other people can read in the environment. So you see the environment as being part of a conversation for learning.

Interviewer: So the environment is smart learning environment?

Prof.: Smart learning environment, that’s right. As environments become smarter, more intelligent, then you can hold conversations with the environment. At the moment, there are initial research studies where you can ask questions in the environment. For instance, tell me about this location? What’s the English word for this object that I’m looking at? But, in the future, you’ll be able to have more complicated conversations with the environment. For instance, students on a field trip, a geography field trip, could ask questions about the landscape. How has it changed over the last twenty thousand years? What did it look like in the past? What’s underneath the landscape that I can’t see? So you can ask more complicated questions about the environment.

Interviewer: Do you think smart learning environment will be used in classroom learning?

Prof.: I think there are some ways to use it in classroom learning. For example, for language learning, as I say, if you’re learning a foreign language then every object in the classroom or in the school could give its definition or tell something about it in a foreign language. But I think the real impact will be—when you go outside the classroom, you could not only explore an environment, but also you can start to understand and interrogate that environment. If you’re a visitor to a tourist site, or to a museum, at present you can see a written label, but you can’t have a conversation with an object in the museum or a picture in the gallery. But you could see in the future that people will be able to have much richer interactions with objects and elements in the environment.

InterviewerHow can mobile learning be used effectively to support informal learning?

Prof.: Some of the ways I’ve already suggested like augmenting the environment to support learning and enabling continuative learning between classroom and outside. So, an activity starts in the classroom, guided by the teacher, and then continues outside, and then finishes off back in the classroom. Now that happens already with, for instance, homework, but what mobile devices can do is make that homework much richer. For instance, as child you might have a scientific investigation which the teacher starts in the classroom, and then you use a mobile device to continue the investigation outside the classroom. You collect data outside the classroom, you take photographs outside the classroom, and then you take them back into the classroom. I think another way is to look learning as a lifelong activity – not just something you do for a short period, but you do over a lifetime. We need much more powerful tools and equipment to support lifelong learning. So when you’re young, you start to learn the skills of lifelong learning – skills of information visualization, or social networking, or information retrieval and filtering. And then you have powerful tools to help you with that lifelong learning. We’ve already seen some of these tools like e-book readers, for example, to give you access to the world’s literature on a mobile device. But in the future, there will be much more powerful tools-tools for idea sharing, for concept mapping, for personal note taking, for life-logging, for capturing experiences and remembering those experiences. So all of that will be possible with new mobile devices to support informal learning over a lifetime.

InterviewerWhat are the important journals and international conferences in m-learning?

Prof.: I think the main specialist journals are International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, and International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organization. Those are two main ones. But other journals such as The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, Computers and Education– a these have published important articles in mobile learning. The important conferences are the WMUTE Conference, the IADIS Mobile Learning, and there are ICCE Conferences. There are new conferences in Asia, in the United States – specialist conferences on mobile learning. But the traditional ones, the three ones that has been going for the longest are IADIS Mobile Learning, the mLearn Conference and WMUTE-Wireless Mobile Ubiquitous Technologies in Education. There are also some important books on this topic. The Handbook of Mobile Learning that is just come out, published by Routledge. It’s a very good book that brings together many different articles on mobile learning。

InterviewerCan you please introduce some successful m-learning applications in education?

Prof.: There are some very large scale ones, and I suppose the biggest one is BBC Janala and English in Action, which is a project in Bangladesh for learning English using mobile devices. Around about 6 million people have used mobile devices, ordinary phones, to access English language using their phone. It’s a service that has been set up in Bangladesh with the support of the BBC and the UK Development Ministry, and there’s about 6 million people have used that. And there is a teacher education program associated with that. So that’s a very successful example. Nokia has piloted some successful math learning in Africa, in particular. But I think the most successful m-learning applications now are two things. One is e-books, so we must to consider commercial applications. E-book readers now allow many more people to access literature, particularly classical literature that’s for free, outside copyright. And also modern literature, using mobile devices. More recently, MOOCs, (massive open online courses) are becoming available to provide free learning worldwide, and those are becoming available on mobile devices. So there have been specialist small scale projects, but the big projects or big activities that going to have a big impact are the more commercial ones like e-books and like MOOCs, and they will have world wide impact. So we shouldn’t just look at small scale research projects, we should also look at now the big implications – such as being able to access university-level courses on mobile devices.

InterviewerIn the field of smart phones for language learning, you also mentioned “Incidental second language learning”. Can you please elaborate on it and discuss the results?

Prof.: OK. For incidental second language learning, I think there is a huge opportunity. For many years, we’ve tried to find what is the real benefit, the real advantage, of mobile learning. One of them is around language learning – being able to provide resources for people learning a second language. Some work that we did with Sharp Labs , in a project called ELMO, looked at how e-book readers could be supplemented: how you could enhance e-book readers to help people with learning a foreign language, by being able firstly to have the book read to them, and secondly to have vocabulary in the book, words in the book highlighted at their language level. They may not know some highlighted words, so they can click on those and get additional information and definitions, or indications of the word in use, or the word being pronounced. And then to have games that are associated with the vocabulary. So the idea is that, instead of learning a vocabulary word by word, you learn the vocabulary in the context of reading or in the context of playing a game. So the language learning, the vocabulary learning becomes incidental, rather than a main focus, and it’s easier for people to do it that way. There are still many other opportunities, for example, for linking language learning to television. So, for example, you are watching a television program in a foreign language. There are subtitles underneath the television program, and then you can click to get a definition of that word. Or just store a word that you can remember later if you don’t understand when you are watching a television program in a foreign language. So, there are many possibilities for language learning, for incidental learning, not just directed learning.

InterviewerThere are three models of interaction: paper book, e-book reader with English dictionary, and e-book reader with enhanced software, including adaptive user modeling and additional interactivity (‘ELMO’). Are there differences in the learning of English vocabulary through reading novels, depending on the mode of mobile interaction?

Prof.: We did a very early study of the three modes in Japan. At that point, we found no difference between them. That, I think, was for two reasons. One is that, the learners who were using it were 15 and 16 year old students and young people. They were very very busy and have very little time to do additional activities. Secondly, the software wasn’t developed enough. It wasn’t well enough integrated. This was 5 or 6 years ago, the technology wasn’t mature enough, wasn’t good enough. So the two lessons we learned from that were: firstly, we need to really understand the uses. We need to understand the uses in context, and we need to introduce technology where there is a real chance of success. Technology for busy teenagers in Japan is not a good context. It would be much better to have it for younger learners, and to have a more game-based approach. Secondly, the technology has to be good enough. So the company Sharp, after we did our study, spent another year on developing the technology further. Now it is available in Japan, called Taduko Academy, it’s a commercial product in Japan. So the technology needs to be good enough, needs to be mature enough for it to work successfully. And it needs to be very well integrated into the book, so that the book is interesting, engaging, and the language learning is seamless – again going back to seamless learning – it’s a seamless addition, it’s not something that is an extra problem or extra difficulty.

InterviewerIn the mobile learning international collaboration, iterative design and comparative evaluation is very important. But we are divided by national and cultural differences. Can you please explain with examples, how those national and cultural differences affect such collaboration, and how can we mitigate any problems?

Prof.: I think that is a very interesting question. There are cultural and national differences. Partly those differences, are in terms of the organization, even the purpose of the education. So in the United States, education is seen much more as being individualistic – it’s about enabling each individual person to improve their performance. In some other countries, I think, in China, and to some extent, in Europe, learning is seen as more social, so that you engage with other people while learning. It’s not just an individual activity. So there are quite deep cultural differences regarding the purpose of learning. And also, the role of the teacher – whether the teacher is somebody that you respect, that you listen to, you receive from, or somebody that you question, you interact with, you argue with. Different cultures have different roles for the teacher. If you are trying to develop technology for learning, whether it’s mobile or desktop, you have to respect and understand those cultural differences. What will work in one culture may not work in another culture. And something that I’ve discovered in my international collaborations is that I have to understand and respect other cultures and other approaches to learning, and not just say “this is the best way to do it” – because what is the best in one culture, in one context may not be the best in another context. It’s part of understanding learning in context. Learning has to be contextual – learning is contextual across locations, but also learning is contextual across cultures, across nationalities. So, for me, it’s been very exciting to engage with the people in other countries, because I’ve come to understand a bit more about their cultures, their contexts, and their ways of learning in practice. So, there is still a real need to try and understand how mobile learning offers different opportunities and has different challenges in different cultures. I think in the United States, the challenge is effectiveness. How can you prove that mobile learning is more effective than desktop learning? How can you do a comparative study? In some other countries, like in Europe, it’s about transformation. How can you offer new ways of learning that were impossible before? And about connection, how can you connect learning across different contexts, across formal and informal learning? I don’t know what the priorities now are in China, but I think there is a real possibility, a real need for somebody to write a good survey paper about mobile learning in different cultures and contexts. Maybe you can do that.

InterviewerCan you please introduce some successful m-learning applications in basic education, higher education, adult education, and continuing education in the world?

Prof.: I think that’s quite hard. For basic education, language learning is an obvious one, which is foreign language learning, to give young people the opportunity to practice a foreign language – whether it’s through game based learning; whether it’s through simple interactive e-books. I think there is a big opportunity for foreign language practice using mobile devices. For university and for secondary education, the real challenge and real opportunity is for connecting formal and informal, so that you can still learn in the classroom, but also continue it at home. Or university level, you can go to a lecture or a seminar, but you can continue that activity outside the seminar; you can continue it online. It’s not something separate, but it’s a continuation. You bring mobile devices into the classroom, and as soon as you leave the classroom, you can continue that learning outside and be able to structure that, so that is successful and enjoyable within the classroom and outside. For continuing education, as I say, seeing it as a lifelong process, and equipping people, giving people tools to support lifelong learning. So an e-book reader is one of those tools. But mobile phones are now very sophisticated. The offer excellent toolkits – they have a camera, they have a voice recorder, they have an accelerometer, a tilt sensor, and a position indicator – they are complex, sophisticated toolkits, and we need to see how we can use those tools to support lifelong continuing learning. Things like live-logging where you can record in advance and you can remember back later, where you can take personal notes, where you can create personal records of your achievement, and where you can very easily access learning materials and also learning expertise – you can get help from other people to solve a problem. So using mobile devices to support this personal need, but also learning communities. Those are really important opportunities for lifelong learning. And there is an opportunity that relates to learning communities. At The Open University, we’re looking at how we can bring large groups of people to gather into a learning community. So we have an application called iSpot. In iSpot, you can make observations of wildlife; you can take photographs of birds or butterflies or insects. When you take that photograph, you can say what you think it is, and you can post it online when you are taking it outside. Then other people in the community can say “Yes, I agree with your observation” or “I can give a better description of what it is you have seen”. We now have about 30,000 people in the iSpot community, who have made over quarter of million different observations of wildlife. It is a very important learning aid, because it helps you to identify wildlife, but also it’s a part of community. It helps to identify where, for instance, different plants and animals are; examine the spread of diseases in plants and animals, the changing distribution of different plants and animals due to climate change. There are lots of ways in which many people can use mobile devices as a part of this large community of citizen scientists. So these are some of the new opportunities for continuing education and lifelong learning.

InterviewerWhat are the major difficulties or obstacles in applying m-learning education?

Prof.: I think the main difficulty is the difference between informal learning and formal learning. So the type of learning that you do at home or outdoors may not fit into the teacher-managed structure of education in the classroom. In the UK and in other countries, we have difficulties with children bringing their mobile phones into the classroom, because it can be a problem for the teacher to control. And they are not just bringing their phones into the classroom. They’re bringing their social networks, their other activities, their informal activities into the classroom. So you can have a tension – a clash between informal and formal learning. I think that’s a major obstacle, a major problem – as informal and formal learning come together, there can be tension and conflict. I think that’s a major difficulty. I think the other difficulty is that in ten years, mobile learning has gone from being something that is very specialist – with just few people doing it with small projects, to being massive -everybody has mobile phones now and they have the opportunity with Internet connections to access materials, to converse with other people, to do different sorts of learning. So we need to understand these new possibilities, now that millions of people have access to learning resources on mobile devices. There are huge opportunities in countries, such as China and Africa – where there is not a fixed infrastructure but there is now a mobile infrastructure – to understand how learning can be different using a mobile infrastructure. It can range from how can you have an extended classroom and how can you have distance learning using mobile devices, to how can you create large communities or interactive learners. So, there are lots of possibilities, but it’s very difficult to understand this new way of learning. This new equality of learning through mobile devices.

InterviewerCan you please introduce some pioneering mobile learning research groups in the world?

Prof.: If you go to the International Association for Mobile Learning website, and look up the projects there, you will see some of the groups that are listed. So there are groups in the UK, at The Open University, we have a large group of people who are working on mobile learning projects. In London, at the London Knowledge Lab, the Open University of the Netherlands; and in the United states, Stanford and Stanford Research Institute; in Japan, Hiroaki Ogata and colleagues in the University of Tokushima; Marcelo Milrad and colleagues in Sweden. But there are many new mobile learning projects and groups setting up. The initial and the early research, I think, was mostly done in Europe, in the UK, in Finland, in Sweden. But then, there has been much recent research in Taiwan, in China, in Asia, in Singapore- Chee Kit Looi’s group in NTU, Singapore. I think the focus is shifting now, from Europe to Asia and to the United States. So there are some very exciting works happening now in Asia in mobile learning, with new groups setting up, as I say, in Singapore, in Taiwan, and now in China. The focus is shifting, and there is so much happening now that I find it very difficult to know where all the new groups are. But the pioneering ones, I think, were in Europe, in the UK, in Finland, in Sweden, and then, in Taiwan, in Japan. Some are South American colleagues in the Catholic University in Santiago. Miguel Nussbaum and colleagues there in Santiago. In the United States, Jeremy Roschelle, Roy Pea, and Elliot Soloway did important early work in mobile learning.

InterviewerYou’ve just mentioned your new book Handbook of Mobile Learning ,did it published recently?

Prof.: The Handbook of Mobile Learning was published in 2013, and it was published 4 months ago. It’s very recent. I’m not the editor of it. I just have one chapter in there, so it’s not my book. But I think it’s a very good book, because it’s the first one that brings together lots of studies in mobile learning from many different countries. So, I can recommend it.

InterviewerIn addition to the above items you have addressed, are there any other important issues you would like to mention?

Prof.: I think the main one is that mobile learning is changing rapidly, and in some ways, there isn’t such a thing as mobile learning, because all learning now is mobile. Everybody has access to mobile phones – many many people throughout the world even in the emerging countries in Africa, and so on. My daughter went to Uganda for her project to a small village in the southwest of Uganda with very poor people, farmers. Even there, with very very poor people, they have mobile phones. Because it was important for them to keep in contact – to find out about prices, to keep in contact with friends and relatives. So, almost everywhere in the world now, there are mobile devices. For many people, it’s the only way in which they can get access to information, get access to communication, get access to the web, to literature and to all of the world’s knowledge. So, in many ways, all learning now is mobile or mediated by mobile devices. Instead of just looking at mobile learning as being in one small area which we did 10 years ago, we now have to understand it as an international and a global phenomenon, being done in different ways in different countries, but also interconnected. So, it’s very exciting for me. When I started 15 years ago, there were maybe 5 people in the world who were doing research in mobile learning. Now there are hundreds and thousands of people doing research in mobile learning, and millions of people who are engaging in mobile learning. So, it’s very exciting. We need to look in a different way, not just as individual projects, but also now, as a big, global interconnected community of people who are learning through mobile devices.